How to Optimize Mobile Equipment Inspection

worker performing mobile equipment inspection

If you perform inspections on mobile equipment, you might be used to hearing the following by now:

  • “The schedule’s changed. We need all the machines in rotation.”
  • “We can give you the machine for one hour, then you have to push the service off.”
  • “I’ll have the machines swapped out as you inspect them.”
  • “When this machine is done loading, we have to send it to another product because they’re behind.”
  • “We don’t have enough machines this week.”
  • “This machine was just serviced. Why has this part failed?”
  • “We’re switching this machine tonight from doing X to Y.”

Some operations and schedules are highly variable, particularly when mobile machines are expected to deal with multiple operational contexts like stevedoring or contract mining. Schedules may depend on those of incoming ships or current jobs, so it’s difficult to have a set interval for preventive service or inspections.

Additionally, lean operations could make things even more difficult since they have only barely enough machines to go around and limited spares. Machines may be here one day and gone for another job the next. Ultimately, the uncertainty in mobile equipment operations can make it hard to schedule inspections. This is where active inspections come in.

What Is an Active Inspection?

An active inspection is a rapidly deployable, condition-based human inspection. These inspections are designed to provide real-time feedback and verification of defined points, and they can supplement data from telematics such as onboard diagnostics systems.

Active inspections provide continuous feedback by allowing the maintenance team to actively engage in real-time inspections. This hands-on engagement with the mobile equipment helps them understand why machines do what they do, while letting them experience firsthand how their preventive maintenance (PM) tasks and inspections help the machine. The ultimate outcome for your crew is a real-time results mindset.

Assessing Your Needs

Every organization with a mobile fleet has its own unique needs when it comes to deploying active inspections. There isn’t any right or wrong way to conduct these inspections. The key is simply to align your maintenance program’s outcomes with your business objectives. Doing so involves asking questions such as:

  • What is our company about?
  • What is the vision we have?
  • How does our vision align with what we’re doing for maintenance?
  • What is the future of our company?

Assessing your needs helps you develop an effective plan for active inspections. Some examples of the needs a mobile fleet might have include:

  • Quickly verify the condition and critical safety points of machines.
  • Monitor failure modes.
  • Engage your maintenance team in finding failures.
  • Keep intrusiveness to a minimum.
  • Have a living inspection that can adapt to the machine’s age, environment, and operating context.

Tip: One example of how your needs might change active inspections is with vehicle age. A vehicle with 6,000 hours on it will have different points of inspection than one with only 10.

Where to Deploy Active Inspections

Active inspections are best deployed in the following situations.

Restricted Access to Machines

Access to machines may be limited due to fast cycle times between trucks and commodities or ship schedules.

In Between Scheduled Service

Active inspections can be carried out between scheduled service intervals in the event that the machine’s operating context, capacity, or environment should change.

Where Telematics Are Used

Utilization-based service, such as telematics, can be supplemented with active inspections. These types of maintenance strategies often leave equipment away from the shop for extended periods of time since they reduce the need for full service, but that can make periodic inspections necessary to verify its condition.

Example of Where to Deploy Active Inspections in Mining

One example where active inspections can help with maintaining mobile equipment is in mining. Suppose a mining company has an operation where they have ten trucks with two shovels loading five at a time. Once that operation has started, it’s very difficult to go to the operators and say, “We need to do X, Y, and X,” or “We noticed something on the telematics.” An active inspection that’s designed to cause minimal interruption would work better here than full-blown service or scheduled work.

Telematics/condition monitoring equipment can help you target quick inspections, and those inspections can be deployed in a flexible manner that causes minimum interruption to operations.

How Do You Build an Active Inspection?

The creation of an active inspection is just like a PM. The key to a successful active inspection is to make it rapidly deployable to your operation. The creation flow looks something like this.

1. Identify the Equipment Type or Operation

First, identify the equipment or operation you need to maintain. For example, if you have a fleet of track loaders being used to recover slag from the holds of ships, trying to schedule maintenance on those machines can cause problems, such as demurrage costs or ships being moved around in the schedule.

In that situation, the track loaders can be selected for active inspections any time they are entering or leaving a ship, which can make up for the difficulty in regularly scheduled PMs.

2. Define the Intended Outcome

Once you have the equipment or operation identified, define what you want to get from your inspections. Potential outcomes might include:

  • Getting a set of eyes on a machine before it switches operating contexts
  • Taking measurements
  • Pulling fluid analysis
  • Creating more data points for condition monitoring

3. Establish Critical Checks or Failure Modes

From your outcome, decide what your critical checks or failure modes are.

For example, if you’re maintaining a fleet of haul trucks, your critical checks might include suspension cylinders and struts since they’re highly important to rod stability, tire wear, traction control, frame distortion, etc. Simply measuring the strut when it goes from hauling one material to another constitutes a critical check that can prevent numerous failure modes.

4. Determine Completion Time

Once you’ve identified the critical checks and failure modes you want to address, it helps to determine how long your active inspections will take. This step is sometimes overlooked, but it’s helpful when weighing the inspection against operations and their schedule. Often, operational schedules are more fixed than maintenance schedules, and that means maintenance may need to adjust to changes in the operation. Whether the check includes one task, five tasks, or ten, having a time estimate is helpful when determining how an inspection can fit into a rotation schedule.

For example, if you’ve established that an inspection takes 30 minutes, you’ll know that you can get it done fairly quickly. On the other hand, if it takes three hours, you might only get one completed over the course of a rotation.

5. Build the Inspection Into a CMMS Checklist

With your active inspection created, you’ll want to build it into your CMMS in order to reduce variability. It’s extremely helpful to make sure you can track passes and fails on inspections and have those outcomes input into your CMMS in a consistent manner.

6. Train Technicians in the Process

Finally, and most importantly, you need to train your maintenance technicians in the process. They should know what they’re looking for, and why they’re looking for it. As you connect them with the process of performing and logging active inspections, you’ll find tremendous value.

How Is an Active Inspection Different From a PM?

If you’re thinking that the concept of an active inspection just sounds like a PM, you’d be correct. Fundamentally, it’s a preventive process. However, it’s designed to be more geared toward condition-based inspections that verify the operating context of mobile equipment and their components.

It helps to think of active inspections as souped-up, critical operator inspections performed by maintenance to make sure you’re actually keeping track of things. As such, some of the differences between active inspections and PMs include the following.

Designed to Be Deployed Without Scheduling

Active inspections can be adjusted to on-the-run changes based on the operation. For example, if you run mobile equipment on the waterfront, you always have to be on the run. They might take a couple trucks out of rotation on one material and put them on another that’s currently behind, or any other type of adjustment may occur, and active inspections should be designed to keep up with that pacing.

Ideally Do Not Require Parts

When keeping up with processes that are constantly on the go, it helps if your inspections don’t require parts unless they actually need to. They’re primarily intended to monitor the condition of equipment, and therefore should be as non-intrusive as possible. As such, avoid changing parts just to change them.

Tip: While you shouldn’t needlessly change parts, if it aligns with your business objectives, then do so. Just remember that the purpose of active inspections is primarily monitoring.

Reduced Impact on the Operation

Finally, the end goal is to reduce the impact on the operation. By identifying the completion time, you can gauge the complexity of each task and its impact on operations.

Ideally, active inspections should be reserved for critical checks only. You don’t want to take the machines away for too long, so make sure your inspection creation flow is hashed out to keep things focused.

Examples of Active Checks

The following are several examples of active checks that you might use when maintaining mobile equipment. This is not a comprehensive list, but these can get you started.

  • Strut height measurements
  • Accumulator pressure checks
  • Hoist, brake, charge, and steer pump pressure checks
  • Hydraulic cycle times
  • Pulling compartment samples
  • Track tension
  • Tire pressure (if you’re not using VIMS)
  • Implement pin and bushing assemblies
  • Cutting edges
  • Heel plates
  • Cooler inlet/outlet temperature ratio
  • Driveline inspections
  • Operational checks, test runs, and functional checks

Again, this list can go on, and it should be tailored to what you need for your operation. As stated before, there’s no right or wrong way to implement active inspections as long as they support business objectives.

Workflow Process for Active Mobile Equipment Inspections

The workflow for your active inspections centers around your CMMS. As such, it starts with writing them into your CMMS as a task or checklist. Some key items to remember when designing your inspection workflow include the following.

Checklists with Outcomes

Ideally, your checklist should identify critical points and have them verified with an outcome, such as a function, measurement, specification, or anything else that gives feedback to the technician.

Informing Work with a Pass/Fail System

The outcome of the inspection will dictate whether a corrective work order is created (fail) or the technician continues with the inspection (pass). The active process is great for generating value-added corrective work orders—just as long as you use the data from your inspections in your creation flow.

Tip: As is often said of using a CMMS, “crap in, crap out.” Make sure you’re generating good data from the start.

If the inspection passes, you move on to the next item until the entire inspection is done. If it fails, you generate a corrective work order to either be scheduled for a future time or (if it’s a higher hierarchy item) performed immediately.

Establishing a Hierarchy of Critical Checks

If a machine or component fails the inspection, you need to have a hierarchy in place for downing it or tagging it out. This is especially important with mobile equipment since highly critical failures could pose human life risks or other major issues.

With a hierarchy of critical checks in place, you can determine when it’s necessary to take a machine offline. The higher a failure ranks on your hierarchy, the more likely it will be to require downing the machine for repairs.

Tailoring Actives to Your Company

Active inspections can be easily tailored to accompany scheduled PMs. PMs performed on heavy equipment are often lacking, doing little more than dropping fluids or filters at set intervals without any documentation. Active inspections can help you optimize the time spent with your machines in order to verify critical components.

Evaluate for Optimization

It’s important to evaluate your active inspections to optimize them for failure finding. For instance, if you do a hundred per month and find nothing, then you likely need to evaluate your inspections to make sure you’re actively engaged in failure finding.

In addition, you can use the findings in your active inspections to optimize scheduled PMs. It works both ways.

The ultimate goal is to see increased availability and added value, and that means evaluating your inspections for effectiveness.

Getting Buy-In

When a technician is performing active inspections, they’re involved with critical aspects of the machine and are often aware of the outcome of potential failures. As such, this is not just a routine PM where the technician can just go through the motions. Rather, active inspections play into a “right-now results” mindset since every inspection involves real tasks with real-time results. This, of course, requires buy-in.

To get buy-in from your maintenance technicians, consider these steps.

Training

Train them in the right way to do active inspections, whatever that might look like in your operation.

Empowerment

Empowering your technicians to make right decisions is vital since they need to know when to step in to do work. Specifically, they need to be able to tell operators to stop using a machine, so they can perform an inspection or much-needed repairs.

Autonomy

From empowerment comes autonomy. Technicians will start performing needed tasks and stepping in on their own, and they’ll start speaking highly of what they’re doing.

Ownership

As technicians begin including others in the process, you get a team that owns it. Everyone knows what they’re doing, and they own their process. From ownership comes immense value. At that point, you’re winning.

Advantages of Active Mobile Equipment Inspections

The impact that active inspections can have when working with mobile equipment can be immensely positive. Some of the benefits professionals have found when implementing these inspections include the following.

Periodic Inspections Between PMs

Active inspections enable periodic inspections between PMs. Sometimes problems arise between scheduled service intervals, and active inspections allow you to take care of those.

Continuous Feedback

Active inspections can be used to determine if adjustments need to be made to your PMs. The constant feedback you get from these inspections can help you adjust the way you inspect machines and address failure modes.

Accountability

From an accountability standpoint, active inspections allow maintenance & repair to determine if operators are inspecting equipment prior to usage as opposed to pencil whipping (filling out forms without actually performing the inspection).

Drive a Preventive Mindset

Active inspections help detect failures before they occur since they keep your team’s eyes on your equipment. As such, they drive a more preventive mindset rather than a reactive one.

Living Document

Active inspections function as a living document that constantly evolves as your operational environment changes, equipment ages, etc.

Safer Operation of Equipment

Safety items, such as seat belts, lights, horns, back-up alarms, and fire suppression systems are checked more frequently. These items may be overlooked otherwise.

Better Fluid Tracking

Finally, active inspections allow for more frequent fluid analysis. That, in turn, gives you more data points when tracking fluid trends.

Common Questions

Some common questions asked with respect to active inspections and mobile equipment maintenance include the following.

When Do We Perform a Mobile Equipment Inspection If the Equipment Is on Production?

There has to be some negotiation with operations. It helps to not only tell them the amount of time you need the equipment for, but also why you need to inspect it. For instance, if you see a trend of adverse fluid analysis on a truck, you might tell your operators that you need to pull it for a half hour to check on the filters. There has to be some give and take here, and you should start with operations.

Is There a Push to Move These Checks to Remote Monitoring Systems?

Eventually, you’ll want to move much of your inspection processes over to remote monitoring, but there’s still value to be found in having a human look at certain items in person. That said, if resources permit, remote monitoring is often preferred to routine inspections.

Is There a Way to Provide Feedback to Operators If They’re Influencing Equipment Faults?

If operators aren’t performing inspections properly, or are treating the equipment poorly, those issues can be addressed during morning meetings or periodic training sessions. Failed operator inspections can also be reflected in your CMMS.

What Critical Areas Should Be Inspected During a PM?

It depends on the machine. Ultimately, you want to identify safety issues and failure modes that pose the most risk to your operation and personnel. As such, determine criticality and prioritize inspections from there.

How Often Should Active Inspections Be Evaluated and Updated?

That depends on your organization and the state of your operations/equipment. If you’re noticing a lot of problems with your inspections, you might want to evaluate them sooner rather than later. That said, six months to a year is a general rule of thumb.

Can Active Inspections Be Used in Environments With Stationary Equipment?

Fixed assets may have less idle time than mobile equipment, but active inspections can still be implemented whenever there’s a lull in operations. It’s ultimately between the maintenance team and operations to determine when those times would be, of course.

How Do You Choose Equipment to Inspect?

This is a matter of equipment criticality and priorities. Whatever equipment is most important to your current operations is what should be prioritized when performing inspections.

How Do You Rank Criticality?

Criticality is based on numerous factors, such as:

  • Whether there are spares of the machine
  • The age of the machine
  • Operating context
  • Monetary priorities
  • Safety concerns

These and more factor into criticality analysis. It’s worth taking the time to evaluate asset criticality since it helps you focus on the most important tasks first.

Conclusion

In summary, it’s important to remember the following when inspecting mobile equipment:

Align Your Strategy

Align your maintenance strategy with your organizational goals and business strategy. As long as you do that, there’s no wrong way to manage maintenance or assets.

Engage Your Team

Connect your maintenance team to the inspection process. Having them see real-time results is invaluable since it provides a direct link to their ownership of the process.

Feedback Loop

Finally, use the data from your inspections as a feedback loop to optimize PMs and the inspections themselves. Target them at failure finding, operating context, and critical components, and move beyond relying solely on manufacturer recommendations.

Put simply, incorporating active inspections into the management of your mobile equipment can fill the gaps left by scheduled PMs and help you improve your maintenance process overall, all while causing minimal disruption to operations.

Note: This article is based on a webinar “Mobile Equipment Inspection Optimization” with Bryan Bieschke. To view the recording of the webinar, visit this link.

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